By Seth Livingstone
Special to the NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- International Motor Sports Association CEO Ed Bennett isn't hiding his enthusiasm about the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's inaugural schedule which was announced Friday.
Bennett said the TUDOR schedule "underscores the cooperative spirit" of the merging series, calling it a "best of both worlds" approach to 2014.
"We have created a premium schedule for sports car fans, taking our new championship to some of the best road racing facilities in North America," Bennett said.
"We had many interested parties (to host races). But for 2014, we only considered facilities from our 2013 Rolex Series and the ALMS schedules. That was in fairness to our existing track partners who have been such strong supporters of both series."
IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton called the schedule, simply, better than ever.
"This is, without a doubt, the best sports car schedule in the history of North America," Atherton said.
The 12-event battle for the TUDOR United titles will begin with the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jan. 25-26) and conclude with the Petit Le Mans 10-hour race at Road Atlanta (Oct. 4).
In between, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) will continue to revolutionize sports car racing in North America with an attractive lineup of races that reflects the cooperative effort between the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series.
"When we announced the merger plans last year, we immediately envisioned a dream schedule -- one that our industry and, most importantly, our fans would embrace," Atherton said. "We feel like we have arrived at just that.
"This lineup will have it all - historic road courses, major market street circuits and two of the most spectacular speedways in the world, Daytona and Indy. It will also have the continent's new jewel, Circuit of the Americas."
The race lineup features four tracks currently on the Rolex schedule, four currently on the ALMS schedule and four that are hosting both series in 2013. TUDOR is a premium Swiss watch making brand that complements Rolex's position in the high-end luxury segment. It is currently the World Timing Partner for both Ducati and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Bennett noted that first TUDOR United SportsCar season will feature iconic tracks, beginning with the debut event, the 52nd Rolex 24 on Jan. 25-26.
Sebring International Raceway, which along with Daytona will host testing in November, will follow Daytona on the regular season schedule with the March 15 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida, long considered the premier ALMS event.
From there, the schedule heads to California for a pair of races. The April 12 event on the Long Beach Street Circuit will be held in conjunction with the IZOD IndyCar Series, while the May 4 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca takes place in historic Monterey, hallowed ground for sports car racing.
On May 31, the series heads to the Motor City and Detroit Belle Isle for a companion street-race event to IndyCar. Then, it's on to upstate New York and Watkins Glen International on June 29 for the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen, an event that originated in 1968 and was for many years part of IMSA's Camel GT Series.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Brownsville, Ontario, currently undergoing a major renovation, will host the July 13 event before the TUDOR Series rolls to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a July 25 race, the third running of the Brickyard Grand Prix.
Both ALMS and Rolex Series have history at Road America (Elkhart, Wis.), which will host the Aug. 10 event. Two weeks later, on Aug. 24, the TUDOR Series will move to Virginia International Raceway in Danville, Va., then on to the year-old Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Tex. for the Sept. 20 event.
The season concludes at Road Atlanta on Oct. 4 on the Braselton, Ga., road course. The 10-hour or 1,000-mile season finale retains its status as a link with the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"We could have added more events, but we had to ensure that we didn't over-tax our industry," Atherton said. "So, we stuck to our plan of going with the best of the best and capped the lineup at 12 events.
The Nov. 16-17 test session at Sebring International, as well as the Nov. 19-20 test at Daytona, will be open to all four classes of cars that will compete in the new championship: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.
With three circuits (Long Beach, Detroit Belle Isle and Virginia International Raceway) on the 2014 schedule not having all four TUDOR United SportsCar Championship classes competing, each class (Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona) will race 11 times next season.